Sunday, September 16

Heart O The Heartland

Odometer: 3287
Location: Crete, NE
States visited: Iowa, Nebraska

While being home for a few days was nice, it was also a challenge because there is far more distraction there. Friends and family want me to say hello and I have to worry about things like paying bills and fixing broken garages. Consequently, time moves really fast and I feel like I’m not getting enough done each day. My goal was to depart on Thursday morning for Nebraska, but because there were still so many items on the to-do list, I didn’t shove off until about 2pm. This of course meant that I hit traffic on the way out of town. When I finally arrived at the Super 8 on the outskirts of Crete, Nebraska (population 6,028) it was after 10, and I had to choose between Pizza Hut and Burger King for dinner. My Pizza Hut waitress, a young woman who had recently enlisted in the army, told me she had just been to Chicago. “How’d you like it?” “It was scary. I barely left my friend’s apartment.” I didn’t get into how she was going to like Fallujah, but I can’t imagine that’s going to go over so well if she gets deployed one day.

Crete is a quaint, smalltown USA kind of place. It’s the type of town I haven’t spent any time visiting since I was a kid on family road trips. I wanted to spend some time there on Friday, but because my hotel’s wireless internet was not working, I had to get into Lincoln early so I could check e-mail.

I had no idea what to expect from Lincoln, having only been there previously as a quick stop on road trips to Colorado. The university is split into two campuses, East and City. On Friday afternoon, both the city campus and the downtown area had a sleepy feel. There was not much going on. Even a lot of the businesses were closed. Maybe everyone was hanging out on the east campus. The only amped up people I found were some sophomores who had been waiting by the stadium since Thursday evening so they could get front row seats Saturday night. The Haymarket area comes off as a bit touristy and manufactured, but still nice. I spent more time in the downtown section which started to pick up once evening hit. I was astonished by how cheap the drinks were and immediately lamented the half-hour drive back to Crete. Passing up dollar-beer night at a packed college bar is not a choice I make without significant consternation.But the main event was on Saturday, and I was able to arrive early and immediately checked out my boys in line at the student gate. They were still the only ones there and campus security had forced them to remove their tent. If anyone was upset by the suddenly cold temperatures, it was them. Three guys made it through the night and were left famished while waiting for their replacements to relieve them. Gameday held their broadcast from within Memorial Stadium. I poked my head in to check out the scene. After dogging them for having only a couple hundred people in the audience last week at LSU, I was astonished to find the entire west grandstand completely full of red-clad Husker fans. Reports indicated that they comprised a Gameday record crowd of 18,051 people. And all of ‘em were riding Kirk Herbstreit. I was impressed and amazed. I can’t imagine standing there for two hours watching a TV show, but these people seemed excited to be there. One could argue that the LSU fans were more serious about getting down to the business of tailgating, and that’s a potentially valid point. Interpret the difference as you will. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gameday lean towards more visits to Lincoln in the future. Tailgating ramped up more slowly than at the other schools I’ve visited, but that could be because everyone was still in the stadium. Tailgate lots were wedged in to all sorts of places, and the whole thing felt a bit cramped. After the impossibly friendly greetings I received from people at Clemson and LSU, I found the Nebraska folks were a bit reserved with me when I first approached. That may have more to do with the fact that I had gotten used to the southern crowd than any real skepticism from people. Once we got a dialogue going, however, everyone was extremely nice and generous. I have been really blown away by how welcoming all the fans have been at my first four stops. I’m going to try not to take it for granted going forward. Several decades ago, Bobby Bowden brought his upstart Florida State Seminoles into Memorial Stadium to play Nebraska. That was back in the day when his team’s motto was “anyone, anywhere.” They managed to win the game, and it crossed Bowden’s mind that his team wouldn’t be able to get past the raucous crowd alive. Instead, the Husker faithful gave his team an ovation as they left the field, prompting Bowden to say, “Those are some of the best fans in the country”. To this day, Nebraska fans have a reputation as being the best. What that means is that they respect their opponent and its fans. They cheer hard for their team, but applaud the visitors if they deserve it. All the Nebraska fans I spoke to took this mantle very seriously and actively do their part to uphold it. The visiting USC followers all seemed to be having a great time, and joined in with tailgates all across the various parking lots. With no ticket, and no media hookup, my plan was to wait until close to kickoff and see if the scalpers were dropping their prices. Rumors of tickets being sold on e-bay for 500 dollars meant that there was a good chance I would be watching the game from a barstool. After about forty-five minutes of asking, I stumbled across a foursome headed away from the stadium who had a ticket to sell. They had no price in mind and I foolishly blurted out “80” for the second time this season (Notre Dame as the other instance). They accepted my offer and I said, “I’ll see you in there.” “Oh, uh, no.” They were going to the bars. I knew that if I hustled, I could make it to my seat in the 94th row of the north endzone section in time for kickoff. Even though the north end is the new part of the stadium, getting into the seating area is a major crush. There was a little pushing and shoving, and one shorter guy who had his woman in tow pushed me to the side and tried to pass where there was no room. When he found his way blocked, there was nowhere for me to move, and I was between his wife and him. He turned to say something to her and hit me in an open eye with the bill of his baseball cap. I flinched and rubbed my eye, but the guy didn’t say a word. I said, “Hey man, you just poked me in the eye.” His response: “You popped your head in there!” I was a little bit surprised, particularly because I was in Nebraska and I was struck by how nice everyone had been the entire weekend up to that point. I said, “All I was looking for was a ‘Sorry, dude.’” “Next time, don’t pop your head in there!” People who have been reading since the days of my old blog may recall a far more extreme altercation involving a short guy wearing a hat. I’m proud to say that I kept a much cooler head this time, merely exclaiming, “You make me want to root for the other team, guy.” The craziest thing about all this was that he only made it into the stadium about fifteen seconds before I did.

I put it behind me and at long last climbed many stairs up to my spot. The seat next to mine was vacant, which I thought was odd since the people selling my ticket only had the one. The stadium was buzzing with excitement. All day, people kept mentioning how this was the first time they had hosted a #1 team since the 1978 Oklahoma game. The game begins with a ritual called Tunnel Walk. The blast The Alan Parsons Project’s Sirius (the same intro the Chicago Bulls use) and show a video on the jumbotrons. The music heightens the intensity, but I have to say that the video came off as tacky. It was a series of CGI football players doing things like jumping out of a plane and walking through a waterfall. They should use Tommie Frazier highlights. That kid was fast. Anyway, the place was going wild and I was glad to be there. USC took their first possession for an awfully quick touchdown drive from their four yard-line. Soon after that, a man came up to me and said I had a bad ticket. At first I had no idea what he was talking about. Back on January 1st, 1998, I purchased a fake ticket to the Rose Bowl and still managed to use it. Ever since then, I have been wary of scalped tickets and made sure that what I was buying was genuine. I pulled out my ticket and showed it to him. “No, you don’t understand. You have a stolen ticket.” At Nebraska, if you lose your ticket or if it is stolen, you can go to the ticket office, show your ID, and have it replaced. You are then instructed to tell security if you find someone sitting in your seat. I find this policy questionable at best. What’s to stop someone from having a friend go sell their ticket and then go into the game anyway. Like all college stadiums, things are packed pretty tightly. But unlike other college stadiums, even the alumni stand most of the game. Todd, the guy who had the original tickets, wanted me to head all the way to the opposite end of the stadium and go to the student section which is general admission. However, since he graduated in 1989, I was a bit skeptical of his info and didn’t want to risk getting shut out entirely. Once I told him that I’d come in from Chicago just to see this game and assured him I was rooting for the Cornhuskers, he was extremely cool to me, knowing that I was even more mad about the situation than he was. Four people were drinking in a bar with my 80 bucks, which goes a hell of a long way in Lincoln. Todd turned out to be a hell of a nice guy and an extremely loyal and passionate Nebraska fan.

Many fans bring in helium-filled balloons which they release when Nebraska scores their first points of the game. Sounds kind of cheesy, right? Well, at least at a night game, it creates a really cool scene. My photo doesn’t do it justice: At kickoff, it was already pretty frigid. As the game wore on and the USC offensive line wore down the Husker defense, the wind picked up and the temperature continued to drop. I stuck around until Nebraska scored a touchdown to make it 38-17. At that point, I decided to head out and beat the traffic. I sorely wanted to hit the bars again and take advantage of the bargain prices. But after another long day of meeting and eating – and with a half-hour drive back to Crete, I decided to pack it in. The drive from Chicago to Lincoln is a tiresome one, but I’m definitely up for doing it again sometime. Home and home vs. Michigan? How’s that sound? Someone get Pederson and Martin on a conference call…

Also, I want to give a thanks to my friend Brandon of Midwest Coast Bias. He helped me get set up with some crucial information and also kept me updated on the Michigan/Notre Dame score while I was busy chatting with red-clad revelers. Just for Brandon – and everyone else, here’s that run you all mentioned:

Sorry, Florida fans. But you'll get your say in about six weeks.


Brandon Cavanaugh said...

Sorry about the jerk in the hat, but you made for fine company, my friend. Best of luck in this endeavor and you always know where you can find me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Beer!!!

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